Q&A with the curator of Usagi NY, a Sou Fujimoto-designed gallery for architects and creatives

Q&A with the curator of Usagi NY, a Sou Fujimoto-designed gallery for architects and creatives

Usagi NY makes wonderful matcha lattes. That may not be the first thing you’d think given this gallery/library/music venue/cafe was designed by Sou Fujimoto. Located in DUMBO, Brooklyn, Usagi NY is a self-described creative hub for artists, architects, thinkers, engineers, writers, designers, and writers. Following its launch last July, the venue’s first exhibition was inspired by White, a theoretical and aesthetic exploration of the “essence of ‘white'” by Japanese designer Kenya Hara. It subsequently screened Mel Stuart’s Golden-Globe nominated documentary Wattstax and recently hosted legendary drummer and experimental composer Ikue Mori. The Architect’s Newspaper spoke with Usagi’s curator, Tomomi Mangino, to get inside look into Usagi NY, some of its previous projects and collaborations, and its upcoming events.

(Update 4/11/2016: At the time of this interview, Mangino was the curator at Usagi NY. Both Mangino and a representative of the gallery informed AN that, as of mid-March 2016, Mangino is no longer the curator there.)

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN): Usagi NY‘s been open for close to eight months. How’s the reception been so far?

Tomomi Mangino (TM): It’s going great. We are getting customers from our neighborhood, DUMBO, which is home for many technology and creative companies today. In our cafe, innovators and entrepreneurs of the next generation are gathering for networking. We promote encounters between professionals in diverse fields also through our cultural events and the new creative community is growing here.

AN: You enlisted Sou Fujimoto to design the gallery. How did that collaboration come about?

TM: It was by chance. When our Tokyo-based owner was looking for an architect who is capable to bring the essence of today’s Japanese creativity for his new location in New York, he had an opportunity to meet with him there.

AN: What vision did you and Fujimoto have when creating the space for Usagi NY?

TM: The space creates an atmosphere of wandering through the art. The multilayer space can endlessly change its appearance for each project or exhibition using simple, floating, moveable panels, which gives more freedom to artists and creators to express themselves. The unlimited boundaries can even redefine the concept of inside and outside. We wish our space would be open like an inside public space.

AN: Usagi NY has emphasized its dedication to showcasing and nurturing the talent of a range of artists. How do you manage to give an equal voice to all of the artists, engineers, writers, musicians, and architects you promote?

TM: Since our opening in last summer, we had artists, typographers, programmers, architects, writers, and musicians as exhibitors, but for us what always matters is how their works can enrich our daily life in this city. So the profession is a secondary matter.

: Talk to us about Marvel Architects’ Everyday People Making the City series that you hosted recently. What was that like?
TM: At the exhibition, Brooklyn in Process | works by Marvel Architects, we showcased smart and beautiful architecture in our area, including St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO, PierHouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and McCarren Pool in Williamsburg. With models, sketches, photos, and aerial videos on the finished works by Marvel Vision, we wanted to show different stages of the work. In conjunction with the gallery show, we hosted a public conversation series, CITIZEN/ DESIGNER: Everyday People Making the City. The gallery temporarily turned into a public salon, where participants openly exchanged ideas with practitioners, urban planners, community leaders, artists and activists.
AN: Finally, you hosted a book launch for “Between Land and Sea,” which is Ken Tadashi Oshima’s book honoring the work of the late Kiyonori Kikutake. Barry Bergdoll was also on the panel. How important is it for Usagi NY to acknowledge architectural works when architects aren’t always given due credit as artists?

TM: We are actually not simply an art gallery but more of a cultural hub. We showcase different types of creativity and the process. So here even an author and a curator are important personalities in our space.